How Employers Can Tackle the Opioid Epidemic in Their Workplace

Monday, May 8, 2017

By Janet Poppe, Senior Director, Payer and Employer Relations; Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
With recent CDC reports indicating 91 Americans die per day from an opioid overdose, it’s evident that our nation’s struggle with opioid abuse and addiction has reached epidemic proportions. The effects of this crisis have placed unparalleled social and economic stress on communities across the country, state and federal legislatures, and our healthcare system at large. Now, a new tool can help employers understand the impact on their businesses, as well.

Called the Substance Use Cost Calculator, the online tool allows employers to quantify the cost of substance abuse in their workplace by entering information about their organization’s size, location, and specialty. A 250-person Florida-based communications company, for example, can incur up to $56,802 in expenses related to healthcare costs, lost time, job turnover and re-training.

While these numbers are staggering, there are some simple steps employers can take to curtail opioid abuse in the workplace, especially when it comes to opioids used after surgery.

Educate employees about opioid risks and non-opioid options

Most patients aren’t aware that the pain medications their doctors are prescribing can carry substantial risk for abuse or addiction. This is particularly true in the surgical setting—according to a national survey, one in ten patients admitted becoming addicted to or dependent on opioids after being exposed following surgery.

Fortunately, there are several effective non-opioid options available. Employers should encourage individuals preparing for surgery to inquire about these alternatives, and to advocate for low-opioid pain management. For detailed information about non-opioid options, including a downloadable discussion guide to help your employees start a conversation with their surgeon, visit

Cover and/or require opioid alternatives

Today there is a growing trend to utilize a combination of medications—also known as multimodal therapy—to reduce the need for opioids after surgery. By combining medicines like anti-inflammatories and acetaminophen with a long-acting local anesthetic that’s administered into the surgical site to numb the area for a prolonged period of time while the body recovers, many clinicians are now performing surgeries with very little use of opioids.

Employers should check with their provider network and health plans to understand what they are doing to reduce opioid prescribing after surgery, and what non-opioid options are available.

Implement parameters to encourage safe opioid use

And finally, if opioids are required—and sometimes they are—employers and provider networks can help ensure safe use by collaborating on prescribing guidelines and limits such as the need to utilize non-opioid therapies first-line and/or a required prior authorization before prescribing high quantities of opioids.

Tackling the opioid epidemic requires a multifactorial approach. For employers, the implementation of a few initiatives to help limit employees’ exposure to opioids after surgery can help stem the tide of abuse both in the workplace and our surrounding communities.

Janet Poppe is Pacira Pharmaceuticals’ Senior Director of Payer and Employer Relations. She can be reached at
Janet Poppe, Senior Director, Payer and Employer Relations; Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Inc. 5/8/2017

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